7 Writing Tools to Try for Children with Special Needs
One of the things I work on as a pediatric occupational therapist is improving handwriting skills in children of all ages. There are a variety of reasons children come to see me when they have been identified as having trouble in this area. More often than not, parents tell me that their children have no interest in writing or they tire easily during these activities. The most important thing I can do is identify exactly where the handwriting breakdown is taking place and provide kids with writing tools to build up their confidence and self-esteem.
Finding tools to help with handwriting is one of my favorite parts of my job. Over the course of my career, I have found a variety of tricks that can be easily done at school or at home to help children develop better handwriting skills.
Hand strength and manipulation skills are required for good handwriting skills to develop. Before I begin handwriting activities with kids during their sessions, we always do some kind of strengthening activity. Discovery Putty by Fun and Function is a motivating strengthening tool. There are six different sets to choose from with varying levels of resistance (based on your child's strength); the big hit in my office right now is the Dino Dig set, which is great for the youngest/weakest kids. Not only does it help build grasp strength, kids can work on building up their manipulation and bilateral coordination skills. (See video of putty in use.)
Many of the kids I work with apply too much pressure when using pencils and end up getting frustrated by having to constantly sharpen their pencils. I have found that use mechanical pencils (my favorite is the Zebra Cadoozle pencils) help kids work on regulating how much pressure they use during handwriting. They start to learn that if they use less pressure, the tip of the pencil won't keep breaking.
For younger children who are struggling with developing an age-appropriate grasp, the first thing I recommend is buying Crayola's Triangular Crayons and breaking them into two or three shorter pieces. First of all, the smaller the writing instrument, the more likely kids are to use a tripod-like grasp. Secondly, the triangle shape helps to naturally get kids to use only three fingers to hold them.
There are a lot of different pencil grips to choose from—so many that sometimes it gets too confusing. The Egg-Oh grip is a great choice for children who may over-flex their joints due to increased pressure while writing.
Working on a slight incline can help children who struggle with handwriting by putting their wrist in extension while allowing the fingers to flex and fall into a more efficient writing position. For kids who have difficulty using two hands, the clip will hold the paper in place so they can write without the paper moving all over the place.
There are many kids who have visual motor and perceptual delays that cause them to have handwriting difficulties. Some of the things that I see is that they have trouble making their letters the same size and spacing letters properly. I have found that using graph paper gives kids a visual prompt on how big a letter should be and how much space should be left between words. There is a great website that allows you to print out graph paper with different-size boxes depending on the age or skill level of the child.
Meghan Corridan has been a pediatric occupational therapist in New York City since 2001. She spent over ten years working at the SAGE Center and is now at Heads Up Therapy. In addition to her private work, she is a founding member of The Meeting House, a recreational after-school program for children with social special needs, and now runs The Meeting House Juniors program. She blogs about OT-tested and approved toys, games, books, and apps at MAC&Toys.